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ADVOCACY & POLICY UPDATE - November 20, 2023

Labor-HHS-Education Funding Measure Delayed Until After Thanksgiving

Washington Update


Last week, Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government open past the November 17 funding deadline. The CR extends funding for the Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Veterans Affairs until January 19, 2024, while other government agencies are funded through February 2. The bill passed the Senate in an 87-11 vote and passed the House 336 to 95, with more Democrats supporting the bill than Republicans. Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Susan Collins (ME) says she hopes the House and Senate can start conference negotiations on the FY24 funding bills that each chamber has already passed. The bicameral negotiations can’t start until top line funding levels are finalized. Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (WA) has argued that top lines have already been set by the bipartisan debt limit deal earlier this year, but House Republicans are not adhering to them. House conservatives have already announced they won’t pass any more spending bills until they see a real plan for slashing funding. 

Senator Collins indicated a preference for a multi-bill funding package, or minibus, that would include Defense, Labor-HHS-Education, Commerce-Justice-Science, and Energy-Water funding measures. Last week, after voting on dozens of amendments to the Labor-HHS-Education bill, House GOP leadership decided to punt the legislation until after the Thanksgiving holiday due to opposition within its own party.

Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act

On Friday, November 17, Senators Todd Young (IN) and Maggie Hassan (NH) reintroduced the bipartisan Upskilling and Retraining Assistance Act to strengthen workforce development and ensure job providers have the necessary tools to hire and retrain workers. The legislation would increase the amount of tax-free educational assistance employees can receive from their employers and would cover expenses for education- related tools, technology, and equipment. The current tax code only allows employers to cover up to $5,250 in educational programs for their workers before workers are required to pay taxes on these benefits. This bill would update the tax code by expanding exclusion from $5,250 to $12,000 for the next two years. It would also expand the tax exclusion to include the cost of education-related tools and technology, including hand tools, computers and software, internet access, licensure fees, and other necessary items to complete educational programs. 

Click here to read the full press release and learn more about the legislation. 

Proposed Rule Supporting the Head Start Workforce

On Wednesday, November 15, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new proposed rule to stengthen Head Start’s ability to recruit and retain qualified staff, raise teacher wages, and provide consistent quality programming for children and families. The new proposed rule follows President Biden’s April 2023 Executive Order, which directed HHS to develop strategies to encourage comparability of compensation and benefits between staff employed by Head Start grant recipients and elementary school teachers and make child care and Head Start more accessible for those families most in need. If finalized, the new proposed rule would raise Head Start teacher annual wages by more than $10,000 on average, and put Head Start teachers on a path to parity with public school teachers by ensuring that their salaries are at least equivalent to preschool teachers in public school settings without impacting children currently enrolled in Head Start.

Click here to access the full press release and learn more about the proposed rule.

H-2B Visas

On Thursday, November 16, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released its temporary rule making about 65,000 additional H-2B visas availableto non-agricultural workers in the U.S. in 2024. Typically, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services makes 66,000 H-2B visas available annually, but it will add an additional 64,716 next year to help relieve a projected seasonal worker shortage.

Click here to access the temporary rule.

Initial Jobless Rate

In the week ending November 11, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 231,000, an increase of 13,000 from the previous week's revised level. The previous week's level was revised up by 1,000 from 217,000 to 218,000. The 4-week moving average was 220,250, an increase of 7,750 from the previous week's revised average. The previous week's average was revised up by 250 from 212,250 to 212,500. The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 1.3 percent for the week ending November 4, an increase of 0.1 percentage point from the previous week's unrevised rate.

Click here to access the report.

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